Review – The Academy by Bentley Little

With a promise of more freedom, and the chance to get out from under the thumbs of a reactionary school board, the teachers of Tyler High have voted to become a charter school. Instructors and parents alike are thrilled with the prospect of independence – and yet…
The formerly laid-back principal has become unusually strict. With her toadying secretary, she seems to be running the show. That isn’t all. The janitors no longer work nights because of what they hear. The students are frightened  by what they see. And things that defy rational explanations are happening on school grounds. But there is an explanation – it’s just not something that anyone can begin to believe…or hope to survive.


Bentley Little has always been a favourite horror author of mine. The books I enjoy most by Little are the ones that follow a very simple formula. Take something very ordinary and twist it slowly, until you’ve reached a conclusion that is utterly unbelievable. Sounds pretty easy, however with Bentley Little in control, it’s unclear to the reader just when (and how) things got so f*cked up. With his stories, it’s not until the world is shaking under the weight of perversion, that you realize there’s no turning back. “It was just a normal day, like any other, until … and then … oh good lord what’s going on …. arrgghhh!”

So let’s talk about The Academy. Tyler High is a typical high school operating under the rules and regulations of the school board, which means that the teachers really don’t have much freedom in what and how they teach their students. Religion and political affiliation of school board members reflects on the approved curriculum, so when the staff and parents of Tyler High find out they are going to become an independent school, free from what they feel is harming the educational system, of course they are ecstatic. But they never really considered what a powerful position this will put the principal and the charter committee in. While they gain independence from one awful bureaucracy, they slowly come to see they have lost any protection from this new assembly of power.

Building a wall around the school to protect students? Well okay, it does provide safety to the students. Creating a group of student hall monitors? Sure, that would mean less students skipping. A new school uniform for all students and staff? Alright, school solidarity and all that. Mandatory parental participation in school events? What a great way to get dead-beat parents involved with their kids education. Take all these examples one at a time and they seem acceptable, if a bit over-done. But flesh out these ideas and you’ll get an idea of where the horror comes sneaking in. Is that wall to keep people out or keep people in? The hall monitors are very much like the Hitler Youth – organized, powerful and trained to use violent means as they see fit. Regular public strip downs to ensure that your Tyler High underwear are clean. And that parental involvement may include posing nude for art classes, failure to do so results in large monetary fines or harsh physical punishments.

Pretty strange how commonplace things, can be tweaked like that. That’s the appeal Bentley Little’s writing holds for me. I like feeling comfortable, while behind the scenes things are mutating and suddenly the rug is pulled out from under me. The characters that fill his stories are also average Joe's, so it’s interesting to consider how you would react if placed in their situations. He also has an incredible ability to satirize all the things in life we would never consider abnormal. Some of his books make alot of sense in a very paranoid, conspiracy-seeking way. As a parent, I’ve always felt the educational system a farce, but never would I have imagined this alternative. However after reading The Academy I’ll have fun at the next PTA meeting thinking about just what goes on behind closed doors. Overall Bentley Little’s horror is fun escapist reading for me, but there is quite a bit behind his words that could inspire a person to look a bit closer and not take everything at face-value.

(Ever wonder about the Wal-Mart craze that seems to have taken over the world? Check out The Store by Bentley Little – good, clean, All-American fun) :P

About The Author 
Born in Arizona shortly after his mother attended the world premiere of Psycho, Bentley Little is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of numerous previous novels and The Collection, a book of short stories. He has worked as a technical writer, reporter/photographer, library assistant, salesclerk, phone book deliveryman, video arcade attendant, newspaper deliveryman, furniture mover, and rodeo gatekeeper. The son of a Russian artist and American educator, he and his Chinese wife were married by the justice of the peace in Tombstone, Arizona.

Title: The Academy
Author: Bentley Little
Reading Level: Mature
Book Type: Paperback 400 pgs.
Publisher: Signet (Penguin)
Publication Date: August 2008

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Shooting Stars Mag said...

Oh wow, this sounds amazing. I think I read Jenn's review of this because it sounds familiar. I really want to read it now though!!

thanks for the review,

Mo said...

I'm glad you liked this too. Thanks for the link by the way :)

I have The Store on my TBR list, and I cannot wait to read it...especially since you said it's good...and we seem to have similar taste in books.

Lenore said...

He does sound like an author I'd like. Thanks for the tip!

Literary Feline said...

I am not familiar with the author, but it sounds like I should correct that soon. This sounds like an interesting one. Thanks for the great review.

E. L. Fay said...

I've read two Bentley Little books. The Association was okay, but The Return is horrible. It's got a couple of scary moments, but the characterization is very flat and the supernatural aspects are hokey and overdone. Not only that, but it's also a complete ripoff of Phantoms by Dean Koontz (who discovered Little). But this particular book sounds intriguing, kind of like a horror version of Tod Strasser's The Wave.

naida said...

I have never heard of Bentley Little, this book sounds good.
Great review!

J. Kaye said...

I have heard so much about this book. I have got to add this to my list.

Vee said...

I've recently started reading Bentley Little because I enjoy the genre. I've read The Burning, which I found fairly interesting, so I decided to read The Academy. I must say that I agree with E. L. Fay, but as a generalization - I find that Little's books have their moments, but otherwise seem flat and overdone. I would say that the crazy and unbelievable story line drags on way too much and then there is a sudden resolution just like that at the end. I don't think I'll be reading anymore of his books. I was sadly disappointed because I felt the books to be more "hokey and overdone" than captivating. I need a new horror author!!